Thursday, March 22, 2018


At the request of Ann Arbor Friends Meeting, Lake Erie Yearly Meeting and other Quaker Meetings around the nation, Friends Fiduciary Corporation, the Quaker investment management company with assets of $400 million, has agreed to exclude companies from its investments that contribute to any and all internationally recognized conflict zones and occupations – including, of course, Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands.

Here is the relevant wording of Friends Fiduciary’s new (March 2018) policy: We evaluate companies on their human and labor rights performance using industry standard objective ratings data and conducting our own research. . . We also consider company involvement in internationally recognized conflict zones and occupied territories, due to the unique risks such involvement may pose.  

We avoid investing in companies that provide products or services that materially contribute to the maintenance and expansion of occupied territories and conflict zones.

You can find their complete investment guidelines here.

This is a big deal! PIAG and the Ann Arbor Meeting have been in dialogue with Friends Fiduciary for seven years on this issue. For much of that time, Friends Fiduciary’s Board was concerned that excluding companies that were complicit in Israel’s occupation would be seen as punitive, or that supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement was anti-Semitic, or that screening out companies that manufacture weapons or weapons components (as they already did, as Quakers) was enough. But in March, 2018, they changed their minds.

Here are some of the arguments the Ann Arbor Meeting used to persuade them to rethink the issue.

From our letter to the Friends Fiduciary CEO and Members of the Board (October, 2017):

“We agree that discernment about controversial issues in difficult. We hear in [your] concern a worry that economic action that speaks to the government of Israel about its mistreatment of the Palestinians is directed against Jews as a persecuted people, which Quakers should not tolerate. Further, we hear . . . that expanding Friends Fiduciary’s investment procedures from excluding not only companies that make weapons of war, but those that support the repression of the Palestinian population in other frightening and injurious ways, would be “punitive” and therefore, perhaps, un-Quakerly.

“We respectfully disagree with both these premises.

“As Quakers, we are convinced that the goal of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement  is not to punish Israel or the companies that support its actions. Instead, we believe that its purpose is to hold companies and institutions accountable for their violations of human rights and/or international law by pressing them to make changes in their behavior.

“We appreciate that calls for divestment can cause discomfort among individuals and institutions that hold power and privilege. But this discomfort should not be given precedence over the pain and injustice Palestinians suffer under occupation. As Quakers, we believe that seeing God’s light in all people means that the feelings of the privileged group should not outweigh the rights of the oppressed.

“Boycotts and divestment are proven nonviolent tactics that were considered by many at one time to be controversial but are now widely celebrated as brave, principled, and just. Examples range from Mahatma Gandhi’s boycott of British-controlled salt and imported cloth, to the Montgomery bus boycotts and lunch counter sit-ins in the segregated U.S. South, to the grape boycotts in defense of farmworkers in California, to the divestment from corporations doing business in apartheid South Africa. Quakers, too, have a long history of supporting economic activism, including boycotts, to advance movements for social justice. In the 18th century, John Woolman and Anthony Benezet argued that the purchase of slave-produced goods helped keep the institution of slavery viable. In the 19th century, Quaker activists such as Lucretia Mott led the Free Produce movement to undermine the market for goods produced by enslaved people and to promote the buying and selling of goods produced by free labor. The Israel-Palestine conflict presents similar challenges and affords principled people and institutions similar opportunities.

“As to the concern about anti-Semitism, we take this issue very seriously. We are clear that the BDS movement categorically rejects and condemns all forms of racism and bigotry, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. Throughout our years of work for peace in Israel-Palestine we have been buoyed and supported by Jews who share our dismay at Israel’s repression of the Palestinian people. Over the last five years we have noticed a distinct increase in the support of the Jewish community for BDS, especially among younger Jewish Americans who feel that Israel’s repressive and cruel occupation does not embody the prophetic Jewish values they were taught growing up, values they cherish and believe in. They know that their work for BDS does not make them anti-Semitic.

“In this new climate of openness, Quakers, too, are becoming more willing to learn about Israel’s repressive policies and to discuss how they can best support justice in the region. Many Meetings have now approved Minutes affirming their support for divestment or other economic action. . . Please see for a full list of such actions.”

We congratulate Friends Fiduciary Corporation for their principled decision!

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

BDS: 10 Critiques. 10 Responses

These common critiques of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement and their responses were put together by the Quaker Palestine-Israel Network (QPIN). We have added images to help explain and illuminate the arguments.

Those seeking peace and reconciliation shouldn’t take sides. Rather, we should remain neutral while calling on both sides 
to support nonviolence.

* In a situation of injustice and power imbalances, remaining neutral means siding with the status quo and the powerful.

Standing consistently in support of justice and against the violation of rights is not “taking sides” but rather speaking truth.

* BDS is on the side of rights and justice. The BDS Palestinian call issued in 2005 asks people to stand for freedom, equality and justice.

BDS cuts off dialogue. Those committed to peace should encourage dialogue and programs that bring together Palestinians and Israelis instead of promoting BDS.

*BDS lifts up the voices of Palestinians living under occupation and provides space for them to be heard in international debates where their voices have traditionally been absent. 

* BDS encourages dialogue. It opens up conversation between those who support BDS and those who are opposed, or who are not sure what they think, or who go along with the status quo because the issue seems too controversial. 

* BDS necessitates conversations about ethics and corporate actions and how institutions and corporations may sustain or be complicit in abusive behaviors. In short, BDS is about opening and not closing space for dialogue.

*BDS and other activists oppose endless dialogue within what they refer to as a “normalization” framework. 

“Normalization” involves bringing Israelis and Palestinians together to understand each other as individuals without paying attention to content or power differentials. 

Those opposed to normalization are not generally opposed to dialogue but also recognize that bringing Israelis and Palestinians together is not enough and can obfuscate asymmetries in power. Addressing the roots of the occupation and all of its structures of oppression must be
prioritized over contact. Dialogue for the sake of dialogue
does not promote justice and equal rights. 

* BDS supports Palestinians and Israelis who come together for
co-resistance against occupation and injustice. It does not support bringing Palestinians and Israelis together to discuss how they can co-exist within a fundamentally unjust system.


BDS alienates many liberal Israelis and Jews who might otherwise work for peace. Peace activists should support actions that bring together people, not actions that push people apart.

* The goals of BDS are an end to occupation, equality between Palestinians and Israelis inside Israel, and justly addressing the rights of Palestinian refugees. It seeks the realization of these goals through targeted campaigns to hold companies and institutions complicit in violations of law or human rights abuses accountable and pushing for changes in their behaviors. It never targets individuals because of their religious identity, beliefs, or political positions. 

* If people are alienated by actions to bring justice, perhaps it is those people’s positions that should be challenged and not the actions for justice that make them uncomfortable.

* The BDS movement includes Palestinians and Israelis, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, and others. It brings together and provides space for all people committed to freedom, equality, and justice. 

* Israeli actions and apartheid policies are much more alienating, violent and divisive than nonviolent actions to realize justice. 

* Challenging injustice and power is a process that necessarily causes discomfort among those who currently hold power and are in positions of privilege. The discomfort caused by nonviolent actions to Israelis with power should not be placed over and above the pain and injustice of Palestinians living under occupation. Nor should the feelings of the dominant/privileged group outweigh the rights of the oppressed.

BDS singles out Israeli violence and human rights violations for attention and ignores war crimes and human rights violations in other parts of the world. 

* Those advocating BDS are responding to a direct call for nonviolent action that has come from Palestinians who need civil society’s help in ending Israeli dispossession, occupation, and discrimination against them. Pursuing such goals in the context of Israel/Palestine does not stand in the way of seeking justice in other contexts.

* BDS activists support BDS based on a principled stand in support of human rights, international law, and equality for
all people. That they may not advocate the use of BDS tactics in all other situations does not mean they do not support justice and rights in all situations.

* Although many activists support several causes, most tend to focus their primary energy on a single issue. Advocates for justice and rights in Iran are not singling out Iran if they do not also speak about Israeli human rights abuses. Advocates for justice in Saudi Arabia, or the Congo, or the United States are not singling out these countries if they do not also speak about human rights elsewhere. 

* Equally, advocates for justice in Israel/Palestine are not singling out Israel if they do not speak about abuses in other locations when they speak about
abuses in Israel/Palestine.

* Many U.S. BDS activists do feel a special responsibility to
support human rights in Israel/Palestine because of the massive military, diplomatic, and economic aid the U.S. government has given to maintain 
State of Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people over the decades as part of its own unjust foreign policy objectives. The U.S. government has singled out Israel by giving it unconditional military aid and diplomatic support.


The BDS Movement is anti-Semitic.

* The BDS movement does not target Jews or Judaism, but rather the human rights abuses perpetrated by the Israeli government against Palestinians, and the various states that enable this or the companies that profit from it.

* The goals of BDS are freedom, justice and equality for the
Palestinian people without violating the human rights and
security of Israelis. The BDS movement, which includes
people of all religions, protests against the unjust policies of a
state and it does not target individuals on the basis of their
faith or ethnic or national identity. Its focus is getting the
government of Israel (and the US as its main supporter) to
comply with international law and to respect universal human

* The BDS movement categorically rejects and condemns all
forms of racism and bigotry, including anti-Semitism. A statement on the front page of the BNC (BDS National Committee) website reads: “BDS is an inclusive, anti-racist human rights movement that is opposed on principle to all forms of discrimination, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.”

* A growing number of Jews and Israelis, particularly youth and
young adults, support BDS. They feel that a repressive and cruel occupation does not embody the prophetic Jewish values they were taught growing up, values they cherish and believe in. They know that their work for BDS does not make them anti-Semitic.

BDS is violent and punitive. It is a coercive use of economic power to punish and harm one group of people. Those seeking peace should support other nonviolent change processes.

* BDS uses nonviolent means to challenge the violence and
oppressive policies of the Israeli state. It never engages in or
threatens violence against anyone.

 BDS calls for accountability and changes in the behavior of
institutions and companies that are complicit in Israel’s
occupation and violations of human rights and international
law. BDS is not about punishing these companies or Israel but
rather ending their abusive behavior and ensuring

* BDS does not seek to harm Israelis. It seeks to end harmful
Israeli government policies and actions with the goal of
realizing an end to Israel’s occupation, securing justice for
Palestinian refugees, and achieving equality for Palestinians and Israelis.

* BDS actions target institutions - not individuals - for their complicity in Israel’s occupation and/or human rights abuses.

* Boycotts and divestment are proven nonviolent tactics used in many situations -- from the Montgomery bus boycotts and lunch counter sit-ins in the segregated southern U.S., to boycotting grapes or strawberries in defense of farmworker rights in California. 

If we deny Palestinians the use of even nonviolent change tactics, what options do we leave open to them as they seek to realize their rights and end abusive Israeli actions and policies?

BDS seeks to delegitimize and destroy Israel. BDS supports the right of  return for Palestinian refugees and could therefore jeopardize the Jewish nature of Israel, effectively eliminating it as a Jewish state.

* The goals of BDS are freedom, justice and equality for
Palestinians. If asking for freedom and equal rights for
Palestinians, including Palestinian citizens of Israel, is
perceived as “destroying” Israel, what does that say about the
current system that is in place?

* When the government of South Africa gave up its racist
policies of Apartheid did it destroy the government of South Africa, or merely reform it and make it more democratic and respectful of human rights?

* If anything “delegitimizes” Israel in the eyes of the world it is Israel’s brutal and unjust policies towards the Palestinians,like the construction of illegal settlements on stolen Palestinian land, the destruction of Palestinian homes and farmland, and a racist political and legal system that treats Palestinian Israelis and Jewish Israelis unequally.

* Eliahu Elath, the Israeli ambassador to the U.S. in 1949, stated
that the 750,000 displaced Palestinian refugees could not be
allowed to return to their homes, farms, and businesses
because “Israel would commit suicide if she took back all the
refugees.” Palestinians were denied their right to return after
the 1948 war because Israel saw them as a threat to a sustainable Jewish demographic majority. 

While it is true that the ethnic cleansing of most Palestinians from what became Israel is what allowed for a solid Jewish demographic majority in Israel, to deny Palestinians their legal right of return under international law because their return would shift demographics within the State of Israel again is to repeat the same racist arguments made by Israeli officials like Eliahu 70 years ago.
* Israel’s displacement of Palestinians is at the core of the conflict. To lift up the objective to maintain a Jewish
demographic majority at all costs and as a reason for denying Palestinian refugees the legal right of return now is to accept the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in 1948 as justified. A
position that says that the Palestinians’ legal right to return
must be denied because it threatens current demographic
realities makes it impossible to address the core component of
the conflict.

* BDS activists believe that they should not support states in
their efforts to unjustly create or retain a particular ethnic
character or to privilege certain ethnic or religious groups
over others. Rather, they support people in their search for
equality and human rights for all citizens.

* UN Resolution 194 enshrines the right of return for
Palestinian refugees. Since 1948 Israel has blocked the return
of Palestinian refugees while enacting the “Law of Return” which allows any Jewish person in the world to move to
Israel/Palestine and secure rights as a citizen. This double
standard is racist.

* There are also different ways that the right of return for refugees might be addressed in a negotiated settlement that could include compensation, attractive opportunities in a new Palestinian state alongside Israel, in addition to the option of physically returning to live within the internationally recognized borders of Israel.

BDS seeks a single democratic state in all of Israel/Palestine, which means the destruction of Israel.

* The Palestinian BDS National Committee, which leads the
global BDS movement, takes no position on whether there
should be a one-state or two-state resolution to the Israeli-
Palestinian conflict. While there are prominent supporters of
BDS who call for a democratic, one-state solution with
equality and justice for all Palestinians and Israelis, there are
other key BDS supporters who support a two-state solution.

Ultimately, there is no consensus on what a final agreement
will entail. Where there is consensus among the Palestinian
initiators of the BDS call is that an end to the occupation,
equality for Palestinians inside Israel, and justice for refugees
are rights that must be addressed to realize peace and justice
no matter what the final resolution of the political structures
in Israel/Palestine.

* It is also true that many prominent observers of
Israel/Palestine, including former U.S. Secretary of State John
Kerry, have noted that the window for realizing a two-state
solution is closing and may even have closed. If that is the
reality, then those seeking peace have a choice: accept the
ongoing oppression of Palestinians by the State of Israel or
push for the transformation of Israel into a single democratic
government in all of Israel/Palestine or a binational
democratic secular state that protects the rights of Israelis and
Palestinians equally.

 The purpose of BDS activism, however, is not to preserve or
create particular government structures, but rather to protect
the rights of all people whether or not a one or two state
solution is ultimately chosen.

BDS puts all its attention on Israel’s abuses and ignores violence by Palestinians.

* BDS is about accountability for the unaccountable. It uses an
international law framework and nonviolent tactics to call
attention to Israeli human rights abuses that are not currently
addressed and pressures institutions and corporations
complicit in those abuses to end their complicity. 

Palestinians who engage in violence are already subject to sanction by Israeli and international actors, often through abusive military
or security services. 

* All imports and exports to the occupied Palestinian territory
are controlled by Israel, key aspects of the Palestinian
economy in the West Bank are controlled by Israel, and Gaza
is under siege by Israel. Palestinians are effectively sanctioned.
At the same time, Israeli receives over $3 billion in military
support from the US annually. It is not Palestinian violence
that is being ignored.

* BDS also builds on a long legacy of Palestinian nonviolent
action and strengthens the strategic focus by the majority of
Palestinian civil society on nonviolent civil resistance as the
best means for achieving freedom, justice, and equality.

Peace activists should support positive actions like investment in the Palestinian economy, not negative actions like divestment and boycott. Otherwise, BDS will hurt Palestinians first.

* BDS activists support positive actions and encourage
investment in the Palestinian economy. However, positive
actions cannot be a replacement for calls for accountability
from companies that are currently complicit in Israel’s
occupation and violations of Palestinian rights. Investment in
the Palestinian economy does not preclude divestment and

* Divestment and boycott are not negative or punitive actions.
They are nonviolent actions designed to bring accountability
and to end ongoing human rights abuses. Once this end is
achieved, both Palestinians and Israelis will benefit.

* The Palestinian economy is completely controlled by Israel.
Long-term development cannot happen unless the occupation is ended and Israeli controls are removed. While investment
in the Palestinian economy is important, there cannot be sustainable investment and economic growth under

If it is to be impactful, positive investment must therefore be paired with divestment and boycott initiatives which aim at political as well as economic change.

* The BDS movement is led by Palestinians themselves. BDS
has been endorsed by over 170 Palestinian political parties,
organizations, trade unions, and movements, and enjoys
overwhelming support among ordinary Palestinians, even
though they may face increasing challenges because of it.

* Palestinians often say that they value their freedom more than
the few jobs brought about by Israel's occupation, which takes
their land, water, and other resources, and imprisons them in
ghetto-like bantustans where poverty is rife and there is no
room for self-determination.

* Palestinians know that their economy will never thrive or be
sustainable as long as the occupation remains in place. Many
are willing to endure more deprivation if, in the end, they
achieve equality.

* During divestment from apartheid South Africa, Black South
Africans initially suffered some effects as a result of
divestment, and they knew that would happen. It was a price
they were willing to pay however, because they knew that in
the long run it would help them achieve their freedom. The
same is true for Palestinians.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

What is a Quaker education for?

Should a Quaker education go beyond the intellectual and into the realm of the moral, the spiritual, and the equitable? 

We think so. 

In this post, PIAG comments on the recent controversy at Friends Central School in Pennsylvania, where an invitation from high school student club to a distinguished Palestinian speaker was denied. 

Friends' Central School
Head of School Craig Sellers
Clerk of the Board Philip Scott
1101 City Avenue
Wynnewood, PA 19096   

                                                                       August 23, 2017

Dear Mr. Sellers and Mr. Scott,
As the new school year approaches, we are deeply saddened to learn the outcome of the controversy at Friends Central last year regarding the invitation by the Peace and Equality in Palestine Club to Dr. Sa’ed Atshan to deliver a talk at the school. 

As we understand the situation, at the request of a number of parents who were dismayed at the idea of a distinguished speaker talking about his experiences as a Palestinian, you first rescinded Dr. Atshan’s invitation, then later, reconsidered and re-issued it (though understandably, he declined to accept). 

Distressingly, you suspended the student club and fired two teachers of color who had supported the students. We are concerned about these teachers, and wonder if you can share with us how the decision was made, their current status, and the support the school may have given them in finding new employment.

As for the school’s treatment of the Israel Palestine conflict, we understand that hearing about the experience of Palestinians under Israeli occupation can be deeply disturbing. 

However, fear has a way of eclipsing reason, reflection, fairness, and compassion – all qualities that we expect a Friends School to cultivate in its students. We ask you to find the courage to move beyond the emotions in this conflict and start anew.

We ask that in the new school year, you continue thinking about your reactions and those of your students and parents, and begin working to make the study of thorny conflict – with human beings on both sides -- a centerpiece in your classes involving international relations, human rights, and history. 

Although we are dismayed that Friends Central has lost the opportunity to hear from one of the most compassionate and compelling speakers on the Palestinian experience, we urge you to invite others – or perhaps spokespeople on both sides of the conflict -- to engage your students so they can make up their own minds about what is fair and just. 

After all, isn’t critical thinking the goal of a superior education? And shouldn’t a Friends education go beyond the intellectual and into the realm of the moral, the spiritual, and the equitable?

With hope,
The Palestine Israel Action Group (PIAG) of Ann Arbor Friends Meeting

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Tensions Escalate

Tensions between Israel and the Palestinians have escalated in recent weeks after three Palestinian gunmen opened fire from the al Aqsa Mosque Compound in the Old City of Jerusalem, killing two Israeli policemen. In response, Israel increased its security measures, which alarmed Palestinians, who saw the installation of new security cameras as a move by Israel to expand its control at the Muslim-administered site. 

Over the weekend, thousands of Palestinians staged a mass prayer vigil in the streets surrounding the compound.

Israel responded to the predominantly peaceful demonstrations by firing rubber and live ammunition, tear gas, and stun grenades, wounding more than 900 of the protesters. 

Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, though quick to condemn the violence against Israelis, has now declared that the Palestinian leadership will “freeze contacts” with Israel “on all levels.”

The escalating hostility and violence is perhaps predictable, given the lack of any recent movement toward the resolution of the Israeli Palestinian conflict, the brutal conditions in Israeli jails – highlighted by a 40-day hunger strike by 1500 Palestinian prisoners, many who had been detained without trial – and above all, the worsening humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, Gaza is on the brink of "systemic collapse.”

Two million people live hemmed in by armed checkpoints, concrete walls, wired fences, and a blockade at sea. For years, passage out of Gaza has been severely restricted, even during times of military siege. 

Infrastructure and agricultural lands have been shattered by Israeli military attacks, and the rebuilding of homes, schools, hospitals, farms, and other facilities has been slow, due to Israel’s restrictions on the movement of supplies. 

Throughout Gaza, electricity is now limited to two hours a day. 

Ninety-seven percent of the aquafer has become unsafe for drinking. 

Over one million Gazans are moderately-to-severely food insecure, even if they are receiving food assistance. Unemployment has reached 42%. 

Fewer than two doctors serve every thousand people. And the population in Gaza is growing rapidly, increasing the pressure on living space, services, and opportunities for employment.

As in the worst days of the South African struggle, increasing the pressure on the occupying power through proven nonviolent methods such as boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) may eventually end the impasse and ease the suffering of the oppressed population. 

Ann Arbor Friends Meeting supports BDS, and in July, approved a Minute requesting Friends Fiduciary Corporation to exclude investment in companies that support or are complicit in Israel’s occupation, its economic exploitation and control of the Palestinian population, and/or violations of international law. 

Individual F/friends can also support UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency), which provides critical education, nutrition, and basic health services to five million Palestinian refugees.